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India calls off 2nd round of Kartarpur corridor talks with Pakistan

The Kartarpur corridor is aimed at enabling Indian Sikhs to cross over to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal area. (AFP)Premium
The Kartarpur corridor is aimed at enabling Indian Sikhs to cross over to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal area. (AFP)

  • The inclusion of a backer of Khalistan separatists in the Kartarpur panel by Pakistan is the main reason for India calling off the talks
  • Gopal Singh Chawla is said to be a major supporter of the Khalistan movement and has associations with LeT's Hafiz Saeed

New Delhi: India on Friday called off a second round of talks with Pakistan on the Kartarpur Corridor scheduled to be held on 2 April, pending clarifications by Islamabad on New Delhi’s security concerns. The corridor is aimed at enabling Indian Sikhs to cross over to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal area.

The inclusion of a backer of Khalistan separatists in the recently constituted Kartarpur-related committee by the Pakistan government is the main reason for India calling off the talks.

Sikhs on the committee include Maninder Singh, Tara Singh, Bisan Singh, and Gopal Singh Chawla, who is said to be a major supporter of the Khalistan movement and is associated with Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Pakistan-based terrorist group, the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

India had “sought clarification from Pakistan on key proposals put forward by India at the last meeting" held on 14 March in Attari to discuss the modalities involved in opening the corridor, India’s foreign affairs ministry said.

“India has also shared concerns and sought clarification on reports that controversial elements have been appointed by Pakistan to a committee to be associated with the Kartarpur Corridor," India said.

“It has been conveyed that the next meeting on the modalities can be scheduled at an appropriate time after receiving Pakistan’s response," it said.

Pakistan said India’s decision to reschedule the meeting of experts on the Kartarpur Corridor is “incomprehensible". “#Pakistan regrets the Indian decision to postpone the upcoming #Kartarpur meeting, jointly agreed by both sides on 14 March 2019. The meeting was to discuss & find consensus on outstanding issues," Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a Twitter post. “Last minute Postponement without seeking views from #Pakistan and especially after the productive technical meeting on 19 March is incomprehensible," he said.

Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah was summoned to the Indian foreign office on Friday, where India’s were concerns communicated to him, said a person familiar with the development.

The first round of talks on opening the Kartarpur Corridor connecting the town of Dera Baba Nanak in India to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan was held on 14 March in Attari in India. The corridor is to be opened in time to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, in November this year.

After the 14 March talks, there were several points of divergence, the person mentioned above said. These include the number of pilgrims that each side aims to accommodate, whether they would travel as individuals or groups, the number of days the corridor would remain open in a week and documents that could be used for travel.

Pakistan wanted groups of 500-700 to travel on certain days a week, with a travel permit supplementing the pilgrim’s passport.

However, India wanted to send 5,000 pilgrims a day, using only their passport with the passage open on all days of the year. New Delhi has said that up to 10,000 pilgrims should be allowed to cross over for prayers on days of special significance, such as Sikh festivals.

Pakistan’s proposals for a special fee and a demand that the pilgrimage be restricted to Sikhs are not acceptable to India. New Delhi has been pushing for permission by Pakistan to allow all Indian citizens, including people with Overseas Citizen of India cards, to visit the shrine. India has also said that there should not be any restriction on people wanting to travel individually or in groups.

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